Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Home for Christmas

This season two dear friends went home early for Christmas.

They said goodbye to the decaying earth and this brief discordant prelude to eternity, and "moved" to their heavenly abode.

After the Bible camp a couple of weeks ago, I learned that Deana, a gal I had worked with at the newspaper for a long time had passed away only a few days before. A long hidden illness had cut her life short quickly.

The news was jarring and I found myself frozen in moments of shock in the days following. She was among the first people I met at The Chief and she taught me much about the inner workings of a newspaper. We spent many hours in the office, working side by side - our desks hardly ten feet apart for a number of years.

At 42, Deana's life seemed cut short, and I wondered why. She seemed to have so much more life to live, dreams to pursue, goals to meet, family and friends to be with and enjoy. But her Creator called her home.

Though I will miss her smiling face behind the desk, I will remember and treasure the things I learned from her, especially those beyond the printed page. Devotion to Jesus and her church, loyalty and love for her large family and her wide circle of friends, creativity shared in generous ways, selfless dedication to her work - these qualities of Deana's remain in my heart and my memory.

Then this week I learned of the passing of Grandpa Grass, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather of some dear friends of mine. I also called him Grandpa and so enjoyed the times I saw and visited with him. One such a time was just days before I left again for Uganda this past summer. I cherish those memories.

He was 91 and had bravely endured pain and suffering for some time. His dear bride of many years had gone before him earlier this year and I know his heart was aching to be reunited with her. I can also only imagine how he longed to see his Savior face to face - the one he had loved and served for many years. 

As I write, my heart is aching as I miss these dear souls. I wish I was in the states to be there to help provide comfort and support as their family and friends honor their memory in various services. I will miss seeing Deana and Grandpa Grass when I return home. I think the sense of loss will be felt once again.

Yet, they say you cannot be in two places at one time. And as we prepare for the imminent celebration of Christ's birth and His coming to earth, I imagine Deana and Grandpa Grass are very glad to be "home" for Christmas this year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Merry "Malaria" Christmas?


I seem to have a knack for getting sick around a holiday.

Chickenpox came Thanksgiving Eve when I was just a little girl. Later, in my mid-teens,I sprained my wrist shortly before July 4th and my birthday (July 9th).

And then the most recent "celebratory" illness occurred this week. Sunday evening and Monday I was feeling "odd," which prompted me to go to a Jinja medical clinic. After having a blood test done, I was told I had "much" malaria in my blood.

I had been holding my breath (not in anticipation) for some time for my first encounter with this oh-too-common Ugandan illness, that at some point nearly every missionary here has to face. I right away began my medicine and wondered what I was in for in the coming days.

Female mosquitos are the carriers of the malaria parasites, which invade the human's liver and red blood cells. (BTW, male mosquitos are vegetarians, eating only plant nectar.)

"The parasite is relatively protected from attack by the body's immune system because for most of its human life cycle it resides within the liver and blood cells and is relatively invisible to immune surveillance." - Wikipedia

I have heard rather terrible stories about malaria and its range of symptoms. They can include fever, chills, joint pain (like your body was "run over by a Mack truck"), headache, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, general overall weakness, jaundice, convulsions, retina damage, and an enlarged spleen. If, however, malaria goes untreated it can progress to even graver symptoms and can be deadly. This is not a disease to mess with.

"There were an estimated 225 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2009.An estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, a 5% decrease from the 781,000 who died in 2009 according to the World Health Organization's 2011 World Malaria Report, accounting for 2.23% of deaths worldwide. Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of deaths being young children." - Wikipedia

I did feel as if I had the flu for the last few days, but am so very thankful my symptoms were not as bad as some. I don't know why, and I don't know if it will be the same in future encounters.

I am feeling pretty "normal," or as normal as I can get. ; )

Right now, I am glad I will have a merry and malaria-free Christmas. Thank you so much to all who prayed for me - indeed God heard and answered! He is greater than any illness!

Information Source: Wikipedia
Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clipart

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Wild Week at WOL!

It has been a week since I returned from Bible camp, and I am just finally writing a blog post on it. Sorry! This week has been a bit busy!

The camp that I and 10 island students attended last week was like a miracle becoming reality. Earlier this year we were offered 10 free scholarships to a Word of Life (WOL) camp near Kampala. But the logistics of organizing something and my being gone on furlough, pushed out the possibility until this month.

First was the task of choosing who among the nearly 100 students at the school could go. With counsel from the school's headmaster and discussion among those of us in the child sponsorship program, God laid 10 names on our hearts. New and struggling Christians, zealous student leaders, believers who lack depth in their walk, a Muslim and a Catholic - these made up my group. Amazingly enough, all agreed to go and received permission from their parents or guardians. For almost all, this would be their first-ever camp experience.

The second miracle is that they all showed up at the meeting place in Jinja - within an hour or so of the set time (not bad for Ugandans!). Fred, who came from an island beyond Lingira that morning, told how his boat was "strangely" early, and with a knowing smile said he was praying. It must have been his prayers that pushed the unaware boatmen to reach Jinja early. Several others also came by boat - in a storm. Agnes trudged through the rain from Kampala and arrived soaked to the skin. However, they all managed to find me at the meeting place - a gas station - even though I had given the wrong directions. I marveled and praised God that He made sure all of us were in the right place at the right time.

After a ride of several hours (including traveling on a very bumpy road) we arrived - in a beautiful camp, set atop a hillside, overlooking rolling hills and facing the western sky and amazing sunsets. These photos just don't do the scenery justice.

The week was full - morning to night with worship times, Bible teaching, devotional and discussion sessions, many fun and interesting activities, meals, sharing, etc.
David, the main speaker, shared on the "I AMs" of Christ several mornings at camp. They were thought-provoking and very applicable messages.

 Amanda, a fellow Global Outreach missionary, was an amazing camp counselor - very attentive and very encouraging to the campers.

Lucy (Ruth) led in our worship times - singing a mix of English and Luganda songs to our Saviour!

Five nights of the camp had themes - "Primary (Elementary) Night," "Professional Night," "Go Green Night," "Wild West Night," and "Christmas Night." We were encouraged to dress accordingly and make presentations in songs, skits, poems, etc. to earn points for our respective teams. To try and be a good team member and encourage the other campers, I got a bit crazy (sheepish grin). Okay, crazy for me, anyway.

Yes, that is me with half of my face painted green. I also wore a green hat and shirt.

More "green" girls. 

Our competition on the "green" night was against the boys and I can say we had an overwhelming victory.  Even my simple poem of:

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I am all green,
What's wrong with you?"

...was (strangely) a big hit. :)

Christmas-theme night...

Yes, that is a shepherd with a squeegee, third from left.

In my Christmas get-up - a red shirt, my green "hat," and my green wrap-around skirt (using my sheets!).

Chris, from the island, participating in "Professional Night's" fun "debate" to answer the question: "Which is better - doctors or lawyers?"

Mornings and afternoons included some outdoor activities, like the "Crazy Olympics":

Throwing small basketballs into tires - easy, right? Nope.
Working with your five team members to move together to move the slide forward - challenging.

Spinning five times around with your head planted on the end of a baseball bat has a dizzying effect - literally. Afterward, I stumbled around and then fell over!

Skipping to a victory...

One of my girls, Sarah, center, with her two counselors, Jackie and Ketra.

Word of Life also has primary and secondary schools at the same site, thus the swings for the "little" kids, though my girls also enjoyed them. From left, Zubeda, Sarah and Veronica.

Organizing for the group photo. Notice Agnes, far right, affectionately holding her mango. I think she ate a dozen or more that morning!

The island gang! Back row, from left: Fred, Atieno, Sarah, Veronica, Robert and Jackie; front row, Abed, Chris, Zubeda, me and Agnes.

I know each of "my" kids left camp having gained so much and having been challenged and changed in some way. Please join me in prayer that the seeds that were planted at camp will grow and bring forth fruit for eternity!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Please Verify Your Identity


I just spent 10-15 minutes trying to log on to my credit card's website.

I entered an old password because I didn't recall that I had changed it awhile back - because I couldn't remember it then. Today I knew something was amiss when I was being asked security questions such as:

"What was the name of your first boyfriend or girlfriend?" Since I have never had a boyfriend, I wasn't sure how to answer the question.

Then there was: "Name your favorite sports team." The LA Dodgers, the Portland Trailblazers? My mind searched for what response I might have given when I chose the question so long ago. Or did I even choose that security question?

I liked this one: "What was the name of your first pet?" Ah, yes, an easy one - Fuzzy - our first-ever orange tabby cat. :)

After logging in and out of the site several times, I finally accomplished what I had set out to do - make a payment. Phew. A lot of frustration for a little work.

It seems that passwords, user IDs,  pin numbers, etc. are required at and in so many places - ATM's, Amazon, e-mail, Facebook, and a myriad of other Internet sites. Unfortunately, my memory is challenged, especially when it comes to remembering numbers. I have tried to come up with ways to compensate for that. ; )

All of this reminds me how grateful I am that I don't have to "log in" when I want to talk to my Heavenly Father or go through an automated routing service just to have some quiet time with Him.

Can you imagine such a scenarios as: "Press 1 to talk to an angel to make an appointment with God," "Press 2 to being your quiet time," "Press 3 to log in to learn what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you"?

Although I am one among nearly 7 billion people on earth, God knows who I am and everything about me. I don't need to submit a password to verify my identity with Him.

We make things complicated, God keeps them simple.

I love the following promises:

"Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." - Isaiah 65:24

"Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” - Psalm 50:14-15

 What does God want? Not passwords, nor IDs.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord,' and will bring you back from captivity.'" - Jeremiah 29:11-14a (emphasis mine)

I am God's child and He wants me to seek Him with all of my heart.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gaining New Vision

(The following is a recent e-mail update I sent out.)

I remember clearly the day I received my first pair of glasses (half my lifetime ago). My parents were prompted to get my sister and I eyewear when they discovered we couldn't properly see distances. Ordering the same frozen dessert from Dairy Queen because I couldn't properly see the sign was getting a bit old. ; )

As I slipped on my my new glasses on that special day, I was taken aback by the brightness and clarity of the world around me. There were so many things I had apparently been missing. Details - like a man's unshaven face and leaves on trees jumped out at me. I wouldn't trade a clearer vision for those pre-glasses days! The "burden" of putting something on my face every day, all day, is no comparison to the great benefit of being able to see clearly.

In early November I began a four-month journey in an online course - the "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement." Just a few minutes ago, I finished listening to a lecturer speak about God's movement through history - from Biblical times up to our day, and how He has used people all over the world to advance His message of love, grace and redemption.

Through this course, I feel as if I have put on new spiritual glasses, gaining a greater vision of what God has been and is doing in the world. Taking a huge step back, I am gaining a greater glimpse of God, His incredible purposes and how He wants to involve each of us in His global, history-enfolding and unfolding plan.

During one of my recent Bible studies with the island girls, I asked them why they had received salvation. Most replied, "to be saved from sin" or "to go to heaven." These are true, but are really only a small part of a very big picture. I asked the girls that if they had a cure for a horrible disease, would it not be wrong to withhold that information from people who desperately needed it?

You and I have indeed been saved from sin and thus we are destined for eternity in the presence of God in heaven, but being a follower of Christ is so much more. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave "marching orders" to His disciples.

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:18-20

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." - Matthew 24:14 (emphasis mine)

Many of us long for the return of Jesus, but may not realize we have an important part to play to help usher in His second coming. The Great Commission (given in Matthew 28) was not Jesus' words only to the 11 disciples, but to all of His disciples in all future generations. I am a missionary, but so are you. If you are a Christian, you are automatically a missionary - to be a witness for Christ. You have been given a message, a mission and a mandate. We have information about the "cure" for the horrible worldwide "disease" of sin.

"But," you may ask, "I don't feel called to a foreign land." All around us, whether in the U.S., Africa or in any place around the world, there are lost people - needing to know the hope of salvation and God's incredible love and purposes for them. You can be a missionary to people that other Christians will never meet or reach.

 I encourage you to find out what God is doing around you and in the world, and take your part in the big picture. You will be amazed as you gain a greater vision of God's incredible heart and desire for peoples of every tribe and tongue to someday worship Him.

May God bless and strengthen you as you serve Him in your corner of the world!

A brief update on what is happening here:
  • This week I am taking 10 students from our island school to a Word of Life Bible camp outside of Kampala. (Read this previous post for more information.) Some of the students are new Christians and/or those who need deepening of their faith. One young man in our group is Muslim and one young lady is Catholic. I have been praying for "my" kids as well as the others who will be at the camp - that they would see God in a new and deeper way, and thus be drawn to walk closer to Him. I would so appreciate your prayers this week!
  • The island school concluded its year on Nov. 24 and now the teachers and students are on holiday until late January, when the new school year begins. Please be in prayer for the students - for God's protection of their minds and bodies. Some come from non-Christian homes and villages and peers who often pressure them to make wrong choices. We desire the island students to be lights for Christ in their homes and communities!
  • The Morning Star Ladies' Bible study is also on break. In my last time with the girls, I challenged them to memorize Ephesians 5:1-17 during their two-month holiday. Pray that the words of this chapter would penetrate their hearts and minds, and that the lessons on purity taught during the Bible study in the recent term would be recalled to rightly direct their decisions and behavior.
  • Christmas time is coming! The SHIM family will soon be going on a holiday break, but there will still be a lot of activity going on, with visitors, traveling, and holiday gatherings in the coming weeks. Pray that our focus would remain on Christ during this special season and that we would have opportunity to share His hope with whoever we meet.
Thank you so much for your continued prayers, support and encouragement! I am so very grateful to God for each of you!

May God bless you abundantly and grant you joy, hope and peace as you reflect on His blessed birth in this special season!


P.S. I highly recommend the Perspectives course to any and every Christian. Classes are available online and in classroom settings around the U.S. and the world. Visit www.perspectives.org for more information.

Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

Camping...


...in December?

Yes, I am going to camp this week! I never thought I would ever camp in the 12th month of the year. Coming from the part of the world that is currently among the coldest, needless to say quite wet, I always thought camping season ended around mid to late September.

Actually, when I was young that is usually when we scheduled our family camping trips - when all of the public school children were back in class and parks and campsites were generally less crowded. We made some great family memories during those treasured September trips. But that is another story...

Tomorrow myself and a group of students from our island school will be going to a Word of Life camp near Kampala for a full week of fun and learning. Earlier this year God blessed us with 10 free scholarships to send some of our students to camp. As we prayerfully considered who to send from the nearly 100 students at Lingira Living Hope, God laid certain names on our hearts.

Some are new Christians, while others are considered leaders among their peers. Some have professed Christ for a long time, but appear to lack depth in their walk with Him. One young man is a Muslim. The Catholic young lady has softened so much toward Christ since I first met her, and I believe she is on the verge of receiving salvation. Each has a story and at least some kind of encounter with Jesus Christ.

I am praying for each of these young men and women, as well as the other young people who will be attending the camp this week. God knows their hearts, lives, challenges, secrets, dreams, etc., and He wants them to know Him more than ever before. Will you join me in prayer this week that God would have His way in each camper's life?

I am excited to see what God will do this week! (Look for a report next weekend!)

P.S. Unlike the camping I did as a child, we will not be sleeping in tents this week, for which I am actually grateful. ;)

Photo Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art